On June 19, 1932, worshipers climbed the steps into the impressive church to wish Scottish missionary Jane Haining well before she departed for Budapest on her mission to help Jewish children. The next day she left Scotland for the Hungarian capital.
No one could have known then that Haining would fall victim to the Nazi Holocaust, dying in Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944, having tried to protect Jewish children, and would become the only Scot recognised as ‘Righteous Among the Nations’. Some years ago, I joined other Scottish parliamentarians at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Jerusalem and saw the commemorative stone to Haining in the garden of remembrance.
Since her commemoration in Israel, there has been a growing awareness in Scotland of her heroic efforts to save Jewish lives and the ultimate sacrifice she paid. In 2005, a beautiful memorial was erected in Dunscore, the Dumfriesshire village where she grew up. Today the local heroine is the main focus at the local heritage centre in Dunscore parish church which proudly displays the medal awarded posthumously to Haining and other items associated with her life.
In Glasgow, beautiful stained glass windows celebrate Jane Haining at the Queen’s Park West Church, where she was a parishioner and Sunday school teacher. She is depicted reading from the bible to young children above the inscription: “Dedicated to the glory of God and the sacred memory of Miss Jane M Haining a former devoted member of this church. From 1932 she served as matron of the girls school in the Church of Scotland’s mission to the Jews in Budapest until taken prisoner by the Germans.” In Midlothian, she is commemorated with Haining Park in Loanhead.
In Edinburgh, the city where she studied at the St Colm’s Women’s Missionary College and saw her mission dedicated there is no permanent commemoration of her remarkable life, the love for the children under her charge, and her ultimate sacrifice. This must change.
Across Europe, there are now over 75,000 brass plate memorials outside the homes or places associated with victims of the Nazi Holocaust. Anyone who has visited Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, Italy and Norway may well have noticed the small brass ‘Stolpersteine' (stumbling stones) set in pavements with the inscription of the name and life details of victims murdered by the Nazis.
Last year, following the installation of the first Stolperstein in the UK, I tweeted: "Jane Haining is Scotland's most prominent Holocaust victim and is Righteous Amongst the Nations at Yad Vashem. A 'Stolperstein' to her memory would be fitting, perhaps outside Edinburgh's St Stephen's Church, where her mission to help Jewish children was dedicated.”
The suggestion was welcomed by local councillor Vicky Nicolson who represents the area, as well as Professor Joe Goldblatt of Interfaith Scotland, who is one of the prominent members of Edinburgh’s Jewish community and many others.
The City of Edinburgh Council will this week consider a formal proposal by Councillor Nicolson to install a ‘Stolperstein’ to Jane Haining. It would be a fitting tribute to her remarkable life and serve as a warning to never forget the lessons of history.